Second-year Upstate medical students Nadia Orosz and Timothy Vo took top honors in the student category of the 2012 Bruce Dearing Writing Awards.
Orosz won the Poetry Award for “Mean Bones,” while Vo won the prose award for his essay, “Gaining Wisdom.”
The students read from their winning entries Wednesday in a ceremony in Upstate’s Medical Alumni Auditorium. They were joined by the winners in the faculty/employee category. The awards are sponsored by Upstate’s Center for Bioethics and Humanities, and named for the late Dr. Dearing, the first professor of medical humanities at Upstate.
The Center for Bioethics and Humanities publishes the literary and visual arts journal, The Healing Muse, each fall. The winning entries in the Dearing Awards competition are eligible for publication in the journal.
Below are Nadia’s poem and excerpts from Tim’s essay.
She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body,
A small, tall body,
like a china doll gone strong.
In a corner room
She lays in repose
or so it would seem
from the eyes upon her pure white gown
filled with tears, wanting to find meaning in the criss cross patterns
covering the walls.
She doesn’t want to look at the technical things
instead gazing into purple plastic flowers
she remembers the last time she ate wild grapes
on her friend’s farm, before horseback riding lessons
They must have eaten five bunches each.
Purple and blue
Like the sky last night
like the bruises new and old,
more green than yellow
now that the therapies didn’t work.
and if she were to disappear
into another world
what would be the last thought
from some final moments
collecting like ashes
the boundary between smoke
would her bones shiver in fear
would one clavicle stand tall and muster them all
into a final rally against the unknown,
or would they simply begin to groan
from being so tired?
It must be a secret,
what her bones decided
as her gaze became hard
and her hands became cold
now we are left with the technical things,
instructions with missing pieces
but perhaps if we listened very hard
past the steady beating of machinery
we would hear the hoof beats
riding through green meadows
floating and falling with the canter
long blond hair tied with purple ribbons,
the blue sky calling her home.
Excerpts from Tim’s essay, Gaining Wisdom
Sue had been diagnosed with what I had learned in Unit 2 of Pathology as Myelodysplastic Syndrome with excess blasts — a form of preleukemia, a prelude to Acute Myeloid Leukemia. For whatever reason — genetic, envrionmental, maybe both — her bone marrow had decided one day that no, it wasn’t going to follow the rules anymore. It was going to do whatever the hell it damn well pleased, thank you very much. It wasn’t going to carefully craft red blood cells and send them out; it was going to ramp up production, draw up its reserves, go full force. Her blood was filled with half-baked cells, and they had been tumbling around in her veins wreaking havoc all over her body for the better part of a year.
She decided to shave her head before her hair fell out. Hair has such little functional significance that, from a medical standpoint, you’d think that it wouldn’t matter if it stayed or if it went. Who cares about some hair? Isn’t a few more months of life enough of a gift? During our hematology/oncology unit, one of our professors said something to this effect: he was sort of bemused that having one’s hair fall out was often the most distressing part of chemo for most patients. His point was that there were so many other toxic ramifications of cancer and chemotherapy that having some protein fall off your head was pretty clinically inconsequential. . . .
As a student, disease is an alien, distant, remote concept, divorced from actual human feelings and experiences and emotions. I remember spending hours poring over syllabi and notes and textbooks, frustratedly trying to get all the chromosomal translocations and disease classifications of the blood cancers straight — and here Sue was, going through the same frustration, but instead of learning the translocations to pass a test, like I was, she was learning about something that was going on, in her bone marrow, coursing through her arteries and veins, every minute of every day. Our roles could have easily been reversed; she could be in medical school, I could be starting work somewhere, gradually becoming sicker and sicker. She was living in it, in a very real sense, and the two juxtaposed evoked something somewhere in my stomach, dark. Even now as I write this, again.